Saturday, November 08, 2014

From Compact to Full-Frame: Sony A7 Early Impressions

I Hate Photography <--- Teen Me
I did not care about the quality of my photos for the longest time. Compact, small sensor, high-ISO, noisy, whatever. If I got the shot, I was somewhat happy. Even worse, I was very anti-photography throughout my teens. Aside from identification cards, I made an effort to never take any photographs of myself and to keep myself out of them on a general basis. Taking photos of inanimate objects was also a no-go as I didn't care enough to even have a camera up until a few years ago.

That return to photography started with an el cheapo compact. My only requirement was that it was cheap. It got dunked in a pond and a river on separate occasions, so I threw it in a corner for a year. Then I got another compact camera using a gift card, mainly to use for this website. That was followed by a bridge camera, an infrared camera, and finally, an SLR-type camera.

First SLR-type Camera: Sony A7
A Sony Alpha 7 is not a DSLR. It's technically a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Regardless, it has a full-frame sensor and easily accessible manual controls. It probably took me a good half-year of research from when I first started looking for a higher quality camera to when I loaded my credit card with debt. The truth is that I don't know much about photography aside from the basics involving ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and exposure. I will probably stick to aperture priority for the next while. So, I'm not going to go into detail about this camera because I really don't know what I'm talking about. What I wanted was a camera with a larger sensor that would work better in low light and some good controls to dabble in "photography".

This is my first SLR-ish camera and probably complete overkill for my needs. However, the A7 is what I decided on. The alternatives were a Canon 6D and Canon SL1. While I love Canon and may end up getting one in the future, I had some concerns that put me off both options. And the A7 was cheaper because I got a zoom lens for CAD$ 100 more than the cost of the Canon 6D body alone.

Sony a7 Full-Frame Interchangeable Digital Lens Camera with 28-70mm Lens
Paid: CAD$ ~1800

Unboxing of Sony Alpha 7
Ordered this online and got it shipped. Really didn't want to considering the cost of the item, but no one appeared to have it on sale nearby. Anyway, opened the box, got a stash of manuals, then found the lens in bubble wrap, the body in a soft jacket wedged into cardboard, charger, battery, and USB cable. The biggest surprise was the ALC-SH132 that came wrapped in plastic stacked onto the lens. I was looking into buying a lens hood separately, so this was convenient.

Video of Sony A7 with Kit Lens Unboxing

First Charge and Assembly
First time I started genuinely unpacking the contents of the box and assembling the camera was at 1:00 am at night. Not much to write home about. I took the camera out, put the battery in, attached the lens, and screwed on a lens cap. The memory card gave me trouble because I was looking at the keying or shape of the slot to orient the SD card. I completely forgot that the slot was good for Sony Memory Stick cards too. Googling suggested they had a different shape compared to SD cards. In short, I was trying to insert the SD card backwards, was almost ready to use force, but decided to try the other way first. Double-checking the manual and the etched in label beside the slot showed I was indeed upside down. Woops.

The Hoya UV Filter I got screwed onto the lens' filter thread without issue. Even better, the ALC-SH132 lens hood that came with the camera fit around the filter on a different mount (bayonet?). There did not appear to be any conflict between the lens filter and the supplied lens hood when I zoomed the lens in and out. However, I'm not familiar enough with cameras to actually tell -- first interchangeable lens camera ever.

No external battery charger was supplied with the camera. This was unfortunate as my cheap compact cameras from Canon came with external chargers. The manual suggested that I charge the camera with battery inside using the supplied USB cable and AC to USB adapter. This was fine, but I found the micro-USB port to be a bit sticky (i.e. hard to detach the cable from the port compared to other micro-USB devices I had). A sticky port would probably help to avoid having the cable become detached accidentally. However, I couldn't swing the camera door that concealed the micro-USB port all the way open, so getting a good grip on the wide sides of the USB cable end was difficult. When removing the cable, I had to grip the narrower sides. Since the battery came out so much easier each time, I will probably get the external battery charger soon for about CAD$ 50.

It charged fine the first time. Ended up playing around with the settings, taking some test shots, and trying out the higher ISO. Battery light felt about the same as my other compact cameras. I liked the battery counter that went 1% at a time instead of full to used to about to die.

Eyepiece Proximity Sensor
One thing I didn't care for was the electronic viewfinder's proximity sensor. Not this particular model, just the idea in general. I prefer to have full manual control over it using a button like on my Canon SX50. The electronic viewfinder worked fine from what I could tell and it probably helped save battery life. Anyway, here is a video showing what I believe is the viewfinder's proximity sensor in action. My guess is that it uses infrared technology since the light looks like what comes out of a television remote control. Also, I could only see it using a digital camera.

Video of Sony A7 Eyepiece Proximity Sensor

Interesting find was that the sensor didn't appear to turn off even if I set it to use the monitor only. Also, I thought I broke something when I switched it to the viewfinder only because it only lit up when I was close enough to activate the proximity sensor.

Firmware Update: v1.01 to v1.10
Because of the good things I heard about the newer firmware versions, updating was a requirement before I even got the camera. It became an immediate necessity once I found out my camera was using version 1.01. I usually hate updating firmwares for fear of bricking things. However, I downloaded the newly released v1.10 firmware for Windows 7, read the instructions twice, then gave it a go. There was some internal debate as to whether I should use my laptop just in case the power went out. Guess I got lucky because the firmware updated without a hitch after about 20 minutes. Think the camera started up quicker afterwards. Didn't have enough experience to tell any other major differences. Probably the last time I will ever mess with the firmware.

Less than one week in, I've taken a few pictures. There are a few major projects planned that will  show up on this website over the next while. So far, I am very impressed and there have been no major hiccups yet. Hoping the satisfaction continues!

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